European Union (Withdrawal)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:44 pm on 3rd September 2019.

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Photo of Bob Neill Bob Neill Chair, Justice Committee 9:44 pm, 3rd September 2019

I have been a member of my party for 50 years, and throughout that time, I have believed in our membership of the European Union. I campaigned for that in the referendum. My constituency voted to remain in the European Union, albeit by the very narrowest of margins, but my side lost and I accept therefore that we need to leave the European Union. I want to leave with a deal. People in my constituency and businesses—those who work hard to build wealth in this country—are genuinely concerned about the impacts of leaving without a deal. Their concerns are not illegitimate: they are real, and they need to be addressed. Equally, they have real and genuine concerns about prolonged uncertainty, and we as politicians need to weigh heavily the damage perhaps done reputationally to our body politic.

These are not easy matters. We have had a great many statements of bold certainty in this debate and too many other things—perhaps too much hyperbole and not enough pragmatism. My conclusion, to try to reconcile that narrow margin in my constituency and those conflicting but genuine concerns of my constituents, has been to vote three times to leave with a deal. I wish others had done so as well.

If I believed that passing this motion today would make it easier for us to achieve a deal, I would support it, but I do not believe that it does. You will know, Mr Speaker, that I have not been afraid to defy the Whip of my party in the past when I thought it right and proper to do so. But after real heart searching and thought, I have concluded that it would not have that effect, and that it might, regrettably, have the contrary effect, of reducing the Government’s leverage in negotiations. If we are to get a deal, the only point that we will realistically do that now is at the Council on 17 and 18 October. I do not wish to bind the hands of the Government in the run-up to that.

It may be a narrowing window of opportunity to get a deal. We may not succeed, but for the sake of my constituents, and to reflect that narrow margin in my constituency and in the country and try to find a means of us moving on together, I believe that we should try to seize that opportunity. I do not impugn for one second the motives or the integrity of those who have proposed this motion—many of them are among my dearest and best friends in this House—but I believe it would be mistaken to support it. For that reason, I will support the Government. I urge my hon. and right hon. Friends to think again before we cross the Rubicon. For 50 years, many of us have worked together. I hope we can continue to do so in the future, and I hope that they will reflect one last time before taking the step of voting against the Government tonight.